Decade of last.fm scrobbling countdown:
19. The Shins (1,344 plays)
Top track (75 plays): Pink Bullets, from Chutes Too Narrow (2003)
Featured track: Gone For Good, from Chutes Too Narrow
When I leave my heavy metal tunnel vision behind and consider what properly ought to be regarded as the most significant musical movement of the first decade of this century, the answer ultimately resolves to indie rock. What that means is, of course, no clear-cut, formulaic sound, any more than grunge or classic rock constitute a style. Indie rock was a particular attitude towards music–a love affair between earth and sky that saw bands fundamentally rooted to rationality float among the clouds. It is unfortunate that my last.fm charts for that era could not make room for the likes of Built to Spill, Ted Leo & the Pharmacists, and The Fiery Furnaces, but those bands that did grind their way into my top 50 represent, I think, one of the finest eras music has to offer. I wouldn’t call The Shins my favorite indie rock band–I’ll reserve that title for an entry a little nearer the top–but I do think they orbit closer the core of what indie rock stood for than any band before or since them.
James Mercer’s genius rests foremost in his lyrics. From the opening lines of Oh, Inverted World on, his ability to paint the simple, mundane concerns of life in lush metaphor–“I think I’ll go home and mull this over, before I cram it down my throat. At long last it’s crashed; its colossal mass has broken up into bits in my moat.”–has defined the indie attitude. It’s permeated with a smug wit, perpetually aware of the trite contrivances of standardized rock that it revels in. Mercer knows his lyrics are extravagant, overreaching their subject matter, and the sort of tongue-in-cheek arrogance of it all is what makes the music so delightful. You can fall in love with it and laugh at the same time.
I chose “Gone For Good” to represent The Shins in this post even though it’s stylistically a bit out of character, because I think it perfectly captures what I love about this band. The lyrics are deliciously pretentious, paired with a comically simple tune that nevertheless successfully pleads for the same pretty appeal as Mercer’s more creative melodies. And now, in an era permeated with the same lack of awareness that tortured the 1980s, it’s a relieving reminder that every dark cloud over the landscape of creative expression is followed by a bit of wit and sunlight.
Untie me, I’ve said no vows.
The train is getting way too loud.
I’ve got to leave here my girl, and get on with my lonely life.
Just leave the ring on the rail for the wheels to nullify.
Until this turn in my head,
I let you stay, and you paid no rent.
I spent twelve long months on the lam.
That’s enough sitting on the fence for the fear of breaking dams.
It took me all of a year,
to put the poison pill to your ear.
But now I stand on honest ground, on honest ground.
You want to fight for this love, but honey you cannot wrestle a dove.
Baby it’s clear.
You want to jump and dance,
But you sat on your hands and lost your only chance.
Go back to your home town, get your feet on the ground, and stop floating around.
I found a fatal flaw in the logic of love and went out of my head.
You love a sinking stone that will never elope,
So get used to the lonesome, girl you must atone some.
Don’t leave me no phone number there.